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Professor Jill Trewhella

Professor Jill Trewhella

Around 30 years ago when Jill Trewhella set out to train as a high school teacher, she never dreamed that career path would bring her into contact with a US president.

But while studying for a combined maths and physics degree, she was invited to enrol in an honours physics program, a decision that later resulted in her advising George W. Bush on available technologies to defend against bio-terrorism.

She returned to Australia as a Federation Fellow, taking up joint appointments as Professor of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Sydney and at the neutron scattering research facility, the Bragg Institute, south of Sydney.

Prior to this, she was director of bioscience at America's top nuclear research facility, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she spent 20 years building multidisciplinary programs.

After her appointment as Los Alamos bioscience director in 2000, Professor Trewhella steered the division towards national security, focussing on defending against chemical and biological agents, either natural or man-made The bioscientists at Los Alamos tested samples collected by the UN Special Commission team as they searched for evidence of possible weapons programs in Iraq during the 1990s.

Professor Trewhella began her academic career after studying maths and physics at the University of NSW, where she also completed her masters in physics. Graduating with a doctorate of chemistry in 1980 from the University of Sydney, she accepted a post-doctoral position at Yale University, where she was appointed an associate research scientist in 1983.

In 1984, she was invited to join Los Alamos to launch a biological neutron scattering program, and she soon began using neutrons to study how nature regulates the activities of biological molecules. This work gained her recognition as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an Australian Federation Fellowship in 2004.